In The New York Times, Evegeny Morozov reviews the recent revelations of which Western tech companies are supplying surveillance & censorship technologies to suspect regimes. In the wake of the Arab Spring protests, more of these exports have been revealed — including some new, surprising kinds of surveillance mechanisms.
Libya & Qadaffi bought surveillance tech from France & South Africa, and was in talks with Narus (a US company owned by Boeing)
Narus supplied surveillance tech to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia
Siemens (German), Trovicor (German) and Nokia Siemens (Finnish) supplied Bahrain with system to intercept and transcribe citizens’ text messages
Gamma Intl (UK) supplied Mubarak/Egypt with trial version of tool to wiretap Skype conversations
Netsweeper (Canada), Websense (US), and McAfee (US) sell censorship systems to Middle East & North African governments
As for prescriptions, Mozorov doubts that simple export controls is enough. He wants something more systematic, and with more attention to how US and European states rely on surveillance technology.
“The obvious response is to ban the export of such technologies to repressive governments. But as long as Western states continue using monitoring technologies themselves, sanctions won’t completely eliminate the problem — the supply will always find a way to meet the demand. Moreover, dictators who are keen on fighting extremism are still welcome in Washington: it’s a good bet that much of the electronic spying done in Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt was done with the tacit support of his American allies.
What we need is a recognition that our reliance on surveillance technology domestically — even if it is checked by the legal system — is inadvertently undermining freedom in places where the legal system provides little if any protection. That recognition should, in turn, fuel tighter restrictions on the domestic surveillance-technology sector, including a reconsideration of the extent to which it actually needs such technology in our increasingly privacy-free world.”